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A New Land, “A New Voyage”: John Lawson’s Exploration of Carolina | Oct 9-Feb 15

An exhibit at the N.C. Museum of History commemorates the 300th anniversary of the publication of A New Voyage to Carolina by John Lawson. Published in 1709 in London, the book was a resounding success and was reprinted several more times for English and German audiences.  (Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

An exhibit at the N.C. Museum of History commemorates the 300th anniversary of the publication of A New Voyage to Carolina by John Lawson. Published in 1709 in London, the book was a resounding success and was reprinted several more times for English and German audiences. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

A new exhibit at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh commemorates the 300th anniversary of the publication of A New Voyage to Carolina. Published in 1709 in London, the book by English explorer and naturalist John Lawson was the first major attempt to describe the natural history of the New World to Europeans. The book is based on Lawson’s 550-mile, 57-day trek with nine others through Carolina in 1700 and 1701.

The small exhibit A New Land, “A New Voyage”: John Lawson’s Exploration of Carolina, opening Friday, Oct. 9, showcases artifacts, natural history specimens, illustrations, maps and manuscripts related to this epic journey. Additionally, the exhibit features a map of North Carolina from a 1709 copy of Lawson’s book and a 1714 copy of The History of Carolina (a reissue of A New Voyage to Carolina) that Pres. James Madison gave to North Carolina governor Montfort Stokes. Admission is free.

As surveyor-general of the Carolina colony, Lawson set out to explore the Carolina backcountry. During his journey, he kept a journal and meticulously recorded his observations of flora, fauna and Native peoples. He combined the journal with a separately written natural history of Carolina and published the volume as A New Voyage to Carolina, which proved a resounding success.

“Lawson’s book is a snapshot of early-18th-century America,” notes Dr. Jeanne Marie Warzeski, curator of colonial and antebellum history at the N.C. Museum of History. “It is unrivaled as a source for the early history of North Carolina.”

The explorer and naturalist collected volumes of plant and animal specimens to return to London. Some of these species are now extinct, such as the Carolina parakeet, which he described in vivid detail: “The Parrakeetos are of a green Colour, and Orange-Colour’d half way their Head.”

Lawson wrote extensively about the Indians he met — the Tuscarora, Occaneechi, Keyauwee and other tribes — noting their languages, healing methods and customs. Compelling artifacts in A New Land are typical of items that Indians used at the time. These include glass beads, ca. 1680-1710 (used for trading), found at Occaneechi Town near Hillsborough, and a kettle, ca. early 1700s, from the Neoheroka fort site in Greene County.

After his historic journey, Lawson led other expeditions to locate areas for settlement. In 1705 he co-founded Bath, North Carolina’s first town, and in 1710 he and Baron Christoph von Graffenried co-founded New Bern.

Lawson’s life met a tragic end in 1711. When he and von Graffenried set out to discover the source of the Neuse River, in eastern North Carolina, Tuscarora Indians ambushed them and held them captive in the village of Catechna, in Pitt County. Lawson was executed after a quarrel with the tribal chief. Ironically, the explorer had admired the tribe and had been their advocate among the early settlers.

Visit the N.C. Museum of History to learn more about Lawson and the earliest firsthand guidebook of Carolina that opened the doors of the New World to others. The exhibit will run through Feb. 15, 2010.

For more information about the museum, call 919-807-7900 or access ncmuseumofhistory.org. The museum is located at 5 E. Edenton St., across from the State Capitol. Parking is available in the lot across Wilmington Street.

PROGRAMS RELATED TO EXHIBIT

A two-day symposium and a noontime program will complement the exhibit A New Land, “A New Voyage”: John Lawson’s Exploration of Carolina, opening Friday, Oct. 9, at the N.C. Museum of History. The symposium, hosted by the N.C. Office of Archives and History, will take place at locations in and around the museum.

Symposium: John Lawson: A Carolinian’s Life and Times

Friday, Oct. 9, beginning at 1:30 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 10, beginning at 8:30 a.m.
A $25 fee covers all lectures, Friday’s reception and dinner, and Saturday’s continental breakfast. Registration is required by Friday, Oct. 2.
This symposium commemorates the 300th anniversary of the publication of A New Voyage to Carolina. Friday’s lectures will focus on natural history, and Saturday’s presentations will examine Lawson and his times. The keynote address will be given by Mark Laird, senior lecturer in the Department of Landscape Architecture, Harvard University Graduate School of Design. For a complete list of speakers, an agenda and registration information, go to www.ncculture.com.

History à la Carte: Early Explorations

Wednesday, Oct. 14
12:10-1 p.m.
Admission is free.
Bring your lunch; beverages provided.
Peter White, Director, N.C. Botanical Garden
Hear about the botanical treasures of our state and the natural history accounts of early explorers in North Carolina, including John Lawson, William Bartram, Thomas Harriot and John White.

For more information, call 919-807-7900 or access ncmuseumofhistory.org. The museum is located at 5 E. Edenton St., across from the State Capitol. Parking is available in the lot across Wilmington Street.

The N.C. Museum of History’s hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free. The museum is part of the Division of State History Museums, Office of Archives and History, an agency of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. The department’s Web site is www.ncculture.com.

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